Avalon 7.1 Spirits Alight, part 6 of 6

“I am sorry,” Simeon said.  “I thought it best not to go through Jericho.  This is the road beneath the fortress of Dok.”  He pointed to the top of the cliff and the wall there.  “It will meet later with the Jerusalem road, but meanwhile, we are below the fort that the Syrians still hold.  I am sorry.  I did not think it would be a problem.  They have left us alone and we have left them alone, until now.”

“Major?”  Katie stood, waved and called from the little rise she staked out to hide the wagon and horses.

Decker veered his trajectory and came riding up, Boston and Sukki came right behind.  “About a hundred.  They will be on us, shortly.”  The riders got down and led their horses to the others where Millie and Sukki would do their best to keep the beasts calm.  At least the mule and the horses were no strangers to the sound of gunfire.  “They should come up from that dry riverbed,” Decker finished, as he climbed the rise and took up his position.

“The men sent to the city will be a while,” Simeon said.  “Even if they bring the gate guard and run all the way.  I am sorry.”

“Stop apologizing,” Lockhart yelled, as he checked his shotgun and pulled his police special.

“My guess is one of the gods tipped them off,” Katie said.  “Even if the gods agreed, I bet someone doesn’t want to give up so easily.”

“Who do you figure?” Lockhart asked.

“Baal?  Asherah?” Katie was not sure.

“Maybe Moloch,” Evan suggested.  His voice sounded calm, but his hand sweated around Katie’s handgun.

“Ashtoreth,” Boston shouted from down the rise.  She got out a dozen arrows and she and Alexis prepared them for explosive flight.  They were the nearest thing the group had to an RPG.

“We may never know,” Katie admitted.

“Here they come,” Lincoln shouted over top.  He paid attention.

One of Simeon’s men panicked and let his arrow fly too soon.  Simeon only brought ten men to escort the bones.  Seven stood ready.  He sent three to fetch help from the city.  He left the other ten men in his company to watch the Syrians on the road.  He briefly wondered if he should have brought them all.  But he assured the travelers his men would turn out the whole army of Jericho, if necessary.

“Maybe we should have run for the city,” Simeon said.

“We could have doubled up on the horses, but we would have had to abandon the mule and the wagon,” Lockhart responded.

“Captain,” Decker yelled from the other side of the rise.  He and Katie opened fire on the oncoming enemy.  Men began to fall.

After a minute, Lockhart yelled, “Now.”  Evan, Lincoln and Lockhart added their handgun fire to the mix.  A moment later, Boston began to fire her arrows.  She did not have to hit anyone directly.  Even if her arrow hit the ground, it would explode, and the two or three nearest men, if not killed or injured, would at least be knocked over by the concussive blast.

Once the dozen arrows got sent, and that did not take long at all at elf speed, Boston got out her wand.  Alexis already had her wand blowing the dust and dirt from the road into the face of the oncoming men, with a near hurricane force wind.  Boston added a stream of fire in front of the men imitating something like a flame-thrower.

“There,” Elder Stow shouted.  “Decker’s wall.”  That was what he called a one-sided screen that Decker could shoot through.  Of course, by then the charge had nearly stopped, and it completely stopped when several men ran into the invisible wall and bounced back.  Everyone stopped firing, except Decker.  He got the three that got caught on the traveler side of the wall.

“Here.”  Elder Stow handed his screen device to Boston and pointed to the top of the hill.  “That is the fortress?” he asked.  Simeon nodded, and everyone looked up at the top of the hill where a wall had been built.  They assumed the fortress had wall all the way around, but they only saw this side.  “The screen is only several hundred human yards wide.  They may discover that and come around it,” Elder Stow said, as he rose up in the air.  He quickly went invisible, and no one noticed anything for a few minutes other than the surviving Syrians ran back to hide in the dry riverbed.

Simeon looked at his men.  Not one had fired an arrow, except that one when it did not count.  Katie shaded her eyes and looked up.  Soon they all looked up as Elder Stow fired his hand weapon at what must have been full strength.  The edge of the hillside began to give way.  Soon enough, whole boulders began to fall.  The Syrians in the riverbed scattered to keep from being crushed.  A few large stones rolled up to Decker’s wall, where they kindly stopped.  Then the fortress wall collapsed.  The zig-zag path that led up to the fortress would have to be reworked in spots, but unless the Syrians had a spare wall somewhere, their fortress was toast.  When the soldiers from Jericho arrived, the Syrians would be wise to surrender.

“Time to move out,” Lockhart said.  “Everyone, take one of Simeon’s men for a ride.”

Elder Stow returned and became visible again.  “My father?”

“Can you fly cover and keep the wall beside us and behind us?” Lockhart asked.

Elder Stow wanted to say no.  Everyone saw it on his face, but what he said was, “I can pivot the wall as we move until we are out of range.

Katie hollered.  “Evan.  Are you and Millie okay with the wagon.”

“Okay,” Evan waved them on.

Simeon got up behind Katie.  He looked uncomfortable but did not complain.  Three got behind Lockhart, Lincoln, and Decker.  One got Elder Stow’s horse to himself, and the horse was reasonable to accommodate for a short distance.  The last two borrowed Millie and Evan’s horses while the couple drove the wagon.

Going at a good clip, it did not take long to reach the Jerusalem road.  Lincoln looked back a couple of times, but Evan seemed a capable wagon driver.  He got Ghost the mule to keep up fairly well.

“Walk them,” Lockhart yelled, and everyone got down to walk.  Lockhart’s and Lincoln’s riders tipped their hats and said thank you and excuse me.  Decker’s passenger seemed to want to kiss the ground.

###

The travelers and their escort reached the gates of Jerusalem on the following afternoon.  Simeon and his men went right in, but the travelers had to wait an hour before they were allowed in, and then they had to stay in the gate.  They had room to set their tents and build a fire, and men brought them food and fodder for the horses and mule, but they would not be allowed to visit the city.

“It is much bigger than the last time we were here,” Lincoln remarked.

“That was in Solomon’s day,” Alexis told Evan and Millie.

“We were being chased by a genie,” Elder Stow said.

“A big, bad genie,” Decker agreed.

“I wonder where he is now,” Katie said, not expecting the answer she got.

“Solomon had the jugs of Marid buried with him in his tomb,” a young woman said.  “As long as they are not disturbed, they should still be there.”

Lockhart and Katie looked at the woman, and Lockhart got up first to hug her.  “Daughter,” he said.

“You should not be here,” Katie almost frowned before she hugged Sekhmet.  “We should not be here.”

“Sekhmet,” Boston named the goddess for those who might not know.

“Actually, the Ptolomys have been in control and lost control of this area so many times in the last century, who can keep track?”  Sekhmet shrugged and changed the subject.  “I see you have added to the club.”

“Millie and Evan,” Alexis said.  “And you remember Sukki.”

“Of course.  I saw Sukki at the wedding.”  Sekhmet slipped between Katie and Lockhart and put one arm around each.  “It was nice of my mom and dad to finally actually marry and make Artie and me legal.”

“Wait,” Evan said.  “You don’t mean your real mom and dad.”

Sekhmet said, “As real as Sukki is really Elder Stow’s daughter.”  Sekhmet smiled and then confessed.  “I do try to keep up with your progress when I can, and nice to meet you Evan Cecil Emerson and Millie Ann Smith Emerson.  I’ve heard so much about you.”

“Nice to meet you,” Millie responded.

“Did I do that right?” Sekhmet asked Katie.

“Just about perfect,” Katie said, and they sat by the fire.

Near sundown, Simeon came back with two men, one who shared some family resemblance, and one who dressed like a priest.  The family man carried a four-year-old girl who wiggled to get down.  She ran to the group on her little legs and headed straight to Boston with her arms wide for a hug.  Boston picked her up and hugged her happily.

Lincoln grinned and said, “Judy, Judy, Judy.”

“He never said that.” Alexis set the record straight.

Little Judith stuck her tongue out at Lincoln, gave Boston a little kiss on the cheek, then stretched to hug Sukki.  Sukki did not know what to do, especially when Judith kissed her on the cheek as well and whispered in her ear.  “Take good care of that old man and your sister, Boston.”

“I will,” Sukki said, and put Judith down.  She looked at Elder Stow, and then at Boston, and began to cry.  Both went to her, but it was only a little cry.

“Daddy,” Judith called. “And Uncle Simeon.”  She held out her hands.  Simeon took one, and the one who was evidently his brother Judah, and Judith’s father took the other.

Simeon laughed.  “I should have known little Judith was in the middle of this.  She started it all, you know, sitting in the arms of our father Mattathias, here in the city to be dedicated.  The Seleucids wanted to sacrifice her to Zeus on the pagan altar they built.  Father killed the corrupted priest rather than give up his granddaughter.”

“I don’t think Zeus would have been happy with a human sacrifice,” Katie said, and Sekhmet shook her head for confirmation.

“Zeus-Amon,” she whispered, but Judith noticed and yelled.

“Sekhmet.  You are not supposed to be here.  You bad girl.”  She wagged her little finger and tried to look serious, but only looked cute.  All the same, Sekhmet hid more securely behind Lockhart’s broad shoulders.

Alexis stepped up and totally interrupted everything.  She carried the bag of three femur bones.  She held them out with instructions.  “The bones of Joseph, son of Jotham, the King, and his wife Tama, and daughter Aleah.  They are home to be properly buried in the sepulcher of the kings.”

“Priest,” Judah called, gruffly, and the priest took the bag, carefully.  “It will be done but tell me.  Did you destroy the fortress of Dok?”

“Yes,” Lockhart answered with a glance at Elder Stow.  “But as my wife has explained to me, we cannot help you with Acra.  We will have to leave in the morning.”

“Yes,” Judah said in much the same tone of voice.  “So my wife explains things to me all the time.”

“That is why we have them,” Lockhart said, and Katie slapped him on the shoulder, but gently.

Judah smiled a little.  “I think I like you, big man.”

“I’m getting the hill when Acra falls,” Judith interrupted.  “I am going to plant olive trees, and a garden there.  Isn’t that right, Uncle Simeon?”  She yawned a big yawn.

“Right by me,” Simeon said, as Judah picked up his little girl, and Judith smiled, closed her eyes, and laid her head down on her father’s shoulder.

“Priest,” Judah commanded, turned and walked away.  The priest and Simeon caught up.

Millie turned to Evan.  “I want one.”

When the morning came, Sekhmet transported the travelers instantly to Suez, and said, since she saved them a week of travel through the dusty desert, they should stay with her for a week, and she could be a good girl the whole time.  That was, at least, what the travelers did.

************************

MONDAY

The travelers head for Rome and Caesar in Avalon 7.2 The Ides of March.  Don’t miss it.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

Avalon 7.1 Spirits Alight, part 5 of 6

The travelers had no problem that next day.  They saw Seleucids—soldiers from Syria, but no one stopped them or bothered them.  They minded their own business, and the people left them alone.  They did stop, however, well before dark, so they had time to plan for the next day’s border crossing.

“The Syrians and Judeans are essentially at war,” Katie said.  “We should expect the border to be guarded going both ways.”

“In other words,” Lincoln said, as he sat up straight and gazed into the fire.  “The Syrians will want to stop us from crossing the border, and the Judeans will probably arrest us as soon as we cross the border.”

“Crossing should not be a problem,” Decker said.  “They will be stationed around the road.  They won’t be in the wilderness and should not be paying much attention to the local farmers who might have land on both sides of the border.  Boston and Elder Stow can go invisible and fly and run rings around the soldiers to draw them away from our path.  The Captain and I can back them up and cover the flank.  We just need to scout out a farm trail that the rest of you can get the wagon through.”

“Major,” Katie said. “When you say, we back up two invisible people, what are you thinking?”

“We hold the horses and kill as few Syrians as possible.”

“If you start shooting, you will just draw the Syrians back in our direction,” Lockhart said.

“The object is to make them go away from us,” Katie agreed.

“We have to find a farm path first,” Lincoln said.

“Boston,” Alexis interrupted.  “You can give play to your impish impulses this one time, only.”

Boston grinned and rubbed her hands together.  Decker spit.  They had some talking to do.

When the time came, just after lunch on the following day, they found thirty Syrians camped beside the road as expected.  The road went more or less straight at that point, as it had most of the way from Galilee, avoiding the inevitable bends and curves of the river.  Lincoln reported the river flowed for more than a hundred miles, but the road ran about fifty-five miles to that point, and that took them two-and-a-half days.

Up ahead, the road entered a forest of poplar and willows trees.  It looked like a natural demarcation between Judea and the Syrian controlled territory they traveled through.  On the Syrian side, there was not much cover, but Lincoln assured them the gully would hide them most of the way to where the farm trail cut through the trees.

Lockhart and Lincoln went first and took up a position by the woods and above the gully, in case the Syrians had a patrol out scouting the border.  Lockhart had Decker’s binoculars.  Katie, with Evan carrying her handgun, snuck to a place below the gully, where they could see the Syrian camp in the distance.  Decker also pointed at the Syrian camp, but kept well back from the others, near the place where the gully started.  He got behind a hill and spied on the Syrians through the scope on his rifle.

Once everyone got set, Alexis, Sukki, and Millie had to help Yusef drive the mule and wagon into the gully.  It made for a slow, rough passage.  One time, Sukki had to lift the back of the wagon to get it over a rock.  Another time, the wagon could clearly be seen, and Alexis had to pull out her wand.  She caused a swirling wind to pick up the dust, and made it look as much like a natural dust storm as possible until they passed that section.

When the wagon started, Decker said, “Go,”

Elder Stow walked invisibly, straight to the place where the Syrians tied off their horses.  Boston covered herself with a glamour that covered her red hair and made her look like a local.  She also made herself look as attractive, that is, as sexy as possible.  She got plenty of stares as she walked down the road, which was what she wanted. She made a scene when the Syrians finally stopped her from crossing the border.  She screamed and yelled, and all but exposed herself in the process.  Finally, she started toward the trees, away from the wagon.  The guards tried to stop her but could not seem to catch her.  Boston slowly sped up so they could not touch her.  When one man tried to run, to get in front of her, she turned on some elf speed.  She quickly arrived at the edge of the woods, roughly a hundred yards away, where she went invisible and entered among the trees.

At that same time, the Syrian horses stampeded to the sound of Elder Stow’s sonic device.  He had knocked down one side of the makeshift pen.  He used his weapon to set fire to the side of the pen that pointed toward the wagon.  Then he let the sonic device squeal.  The horses bolted away from the fire and the sound, while Elder Stow, still invisible, rose up in the air and chased a few lazy horses.  He set the tents closest to the road on fire, with a judicious use of his weapon.  He figured the Syrians closer to the wagon would be drawn in toward the road to help put out the fires.  He tried not to kill anyone, but briefly felt sorry if there were humans inside the burning tents.  He flew, still invisible, back to the wagon.  They were just ready to enter the forest, and he thought he might fly cover until they were safe.

Decker caught up to the back of the wagon.  Lockhart and Lincoln came down from above the gully, while Katie and Evan came up to the trees.  They pushed in amongst the trees on what looked like more of deer trail than a farm road.  Less than a dozen yards in, and they became surrounded by twenty rough looking men.  The men looked more like farmers, builders, merchants, and teamsters than an army, but they also looked like they meant business.

“Where are you headed?”  The man who appeared to be in charge, asked, but he looked uncertain how to take these strangers.  Two men looked in the back of the wagon but did not touch anything.  Most appeared interested in the horses and equipment.

Lockhart got down and said, “We are no friends with the Seleucids.  We are newly arrived from Greece, though we are not Greeks.  Our home is far in the west, beyond the sea.  We must go to Egypt and beyond to reach our home, but first we have a task.  We told this family we would take them home to Jerusalem.”

While Lockhart distracted everyone’s attention, Elder Stow landed behind the group, unseen.  He became visible and walked to his horse without incident.  Likewise, Boston ran up to the group and became visible, returning to her normal red-headed self, covered in her glamour of humanity.  A few of the men may have looked at her twice when she went to her horse, but they may have been startled by her red hair.

“We cannot help you right now,” the man in charge said.  “The temple and the city are being cleansed of outsiders and outside influence.”

“And Acra?” Katie asked.

The leader paused to stare at the yellow-headed woman.  “You know something… But no.  The fortress on the hill over the city remains in enemy hands.  My brother will not spend his forces on direct confrontation.  Better we cut off their supplies so that they surrender peaceably.”

“But we promised Yusef and his family that we would see them buried in Jerusalem.”

The leader smiled.  “He looks healthy enough, and not so old.  I would say there is time for that.”

“There is no time,” Yusef stood in the wagon.  His wife stood and held his cloak while their daughter stood and held on to her mother’s skirt.  “The time is past and is now over.  Listen Simeon, son of Mattathias.  I am Joseph, eldest son of Jotham, king of Judah.  Son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, son of Amaziah, son of Jehoash, son of Ahaziah, son of Jehoram, son of Jehoshaphat, son of Asa, son of Abijah, son of Rehoboam, son of Solomon, son of David the King.  From David to my father is twelve generations, and I am the thirteenth, cut off from my home for all these years.

“I was sent by my father to Samaria, to speak peace to the kings of Israel and Damascus.  My younger brother, Ahaz, thought the time ripe to rebel.  He and his Assyrian friends locked my father away and demanded my return in chains.  My own servants turned against me, as Ahaz had long since planned.  But I was warned in a letter from the prophet Isaiah, and I took my wife and my child and fled, not knowing who else to trust.  We eventually came to Hazor, far in the north country, but there, the Assyrians caught us.  We were killed along with the city, and we have waited all these years to return home.

“Now these good people have pledged to see us buried in the place of the kings.  See that it is done.  Do not fight against the Lord your God.  The word of the Lord, given to the prophet Isaiah, has been plainly spoken, and now it is done.”  Yusef pulled a very old parchment from his cloak, but it immediately crumbled to dust and blew away on the wind.  “The time is over,” Yusef said to the sky, and he, Tama and Aleah began to glow.  They became too bright to look at before they vanished in an instant.  Everyone heard the clump, clump, clump as three bones fell to the wagon bed.

To their credit, none of the Judeans screamed and ran away, but to be fair, they might not have dared to do so.  The travelers acted much less surprised.  This seemed in line with so many of their other experiences, but not, in a way.  They all felt moved in a different way than the gods might have moved them.  This felt holy.

Katie and Alexis moved first.  Katie fetched the empty bag they had used to carry grain from a village they passed through the day before.  Alexis caused her fairy weave clothing to form gloves for her hands. She carefully picked up three bones, one from the buckboard, and two from the wagon bed.  Being a nurse, she identified them as femur bones.

Lincoln, who stepped up to help Katie hold the bag, commented.  “Probably the only bones they could save after five hundred and sixty-eight years.”

“Simeon?” Lockhart asked.  The man nodded, closed his mouth and looked up at Lockhart.  “We promised to see them buried in Jerusalem.”  Simeon nodded a little but said nothing.

“The City of David,” Evan interrupted.  “He belongs in the sepulcher of the Kings, with his fathers.”  Simeon looked at Evan and nodded again, slightly.

“Now, we need someone to drive the wagon,” Decker pointed out.

Simeon appeared to come to himself.  He waved for two men to take the mule, but the men shook their heads and backed away.  None of them would touch the wagon, especially when Katie placed the bone-filed bag gently in the back.

“That’s okay,” Evan said.  “Millie and I will take the day.”  He looked at Millie to be sure, but she nodded.

“Tama and Aleah seemed very nice, even if they never said anything.”

Katie complained.  “Now that I know his heritage and story, I have so many questions.”

“We all do,” Evan agreed, and Simeon nodded again.

“But now he is no longer available to ask your questions,” Lincoln said.

“Probably on purpose,” Lockhart suggested, and no one argued.

Avalon 7.1 Spirits Alight, part 4 of 6

Lunch did not last long, and they stopped in a green field when they had plenty of daylight for the horses to feed.  The day remained cold, but the winter there still produced some green feed by the river.

When Lincoln finished his duty, helping to tend the horses, he pulled out the database, and after reading for a bit, he reported his speculation.  “There, on the hill, or in those hills, should be the city of Ephron.  Tomorrow, we should pass Pella in the morning and reach Amathus by afternoon.  They should all be on the other side of the river from the way we are traveling.  We should be able to wave and pass right on by.”

“How close to the border of Judea?” Katie asked.

“Um,” Lincoln figured.  “Based on the information I gathered in Philoteria, I would guess the Maccabees have not yet moved out of Judea.  That narrows the time frame to early in the rebellion.  I would guess we should cross into Jewish territory about lunch on the next day, about a half-day from Jericho.”

Katie nodded.  “That is the day we will have to watch carefully.  Both the Syrians and Jews may have men guarding the border, and they may not be too happy with people crossing over, one way or the other.”

“True enough,” a woman said.  People looked, expecting Tama, or maybe Aleah to appear.  Instead, Anath-Rama, the goddess of the Amazon paradise appeared, though it took the travelers a minute to figure it out.  Katie was the first to speak.

“I’m not dead yet,” she said.  “And I was told I don’t qualify as an Amazon.”

“And you are correct,” Anath-Rama said.  “But you carry three who are dead.  I thought it only right to apologize for burdening you with them.”

The travelers looked at each other and asked, “How so?”

Anath-Rama took a seat between Katie and Alexis before she spoke.  “The Jews are kept in a place apart.  Not even the gods know that place.  Since Alexander, things have become muddied.  Baal, Hades, Erishkegal, and many other cathartic gods from here in the east all the way to Egypt have argued at times on just where some people need to go.  Some spirits have had to wait for years to be placed.  These three, however, were different.  No one wanted them.  No one dared take Jews into their place.  But the source did not take them, either.  No one knew what to do with them.”

“That is terrible,” Alexis said.

“To have to wander that town, without hope, for more than five hundred years.

“Five hundred and sixty-eight years.  But they were not alone.  I broke down and took them in so they would not have to be alone.  Your adopted android daughter, Artie, prevailed upon me, kind heart that she is.”

Lockhart looked up before he turned his head to the flames.  Katie stiffened, before she confessed, “She got her kind heart from her father.”  Lockhart kindly did not say anything.  He remembered how they found Artie crashed to the earth, and how Elder Stow was instrumental in setting her free from all the restraints her Anazi makers placed on her.  He remembered how he and Katie adopted her, long before they actually married, and how she became transformed at one point into a human, so she became like a real daughter to the couple.  But in the end, she transformed back into an android so she could set her people free of their Anazi slave-masters.  He knew she was gone but felt glad to know she continued among the dead.  He remembered Anath-Rama volunteered to watch over the spirits of the android dead until what they called the time of the dissolution of the gods.  He felt grateful to know Artie was in good hands, but thought he better listen, as Anath-Rama picked up her story.

“Once that became settled, the gods prophesied.  These three, a man, a woman, and a child, would be a sign for when the days of the gods would end.  You may have noticed the gods are not around as much as in the past.  It is said, when these three reach Jerusalem, the time will be two weeks and two days.  By dead reckoning, that is one hundred and sixty years.  The Gods have that time to finish their work and go over to the other side.  When the time is up, the day of the gods will be over.”

“Dead Reckoning, good pun,” Decker said.

Anath-Rama smiled for him.  “Thanks.  I saved it for years.”

“But wait,” Lincoln spoke up.  “Not all of the gods are anxious to end their days.  What if one of them tries to stop us?”

Anath-Rama shook her head.  “These three are protected by the full power and might of the gods.  Any attempt would send the offending god or spirit instantly to the other side.  You will be left alone.”

“The other side?” Millie asked, quietly.

“Death,” Alexis explained, with equal quiet.

“So, I am sorry to burden you, but when you came through the time gate, I felt—no—I believed you were the answer we were waiting for.  I am glad you don’t mind.”

“Mom?  Dad?”  The voice came before Artie appeared.

“Artie?”  Katie jumped up and opened her arms.  Lockhart stood and watched Artie the android race into Katie’s embrace.  Katie and Artie started to cry, and Lockhart slipped his arms around his two girls, and without the awkwardness or embarrassment he used to show all those centuries ago.  After a while, Artie talked.

“Mom, my people are all gone now.”

“I know,” Katie said as she took her hand to brush Artie’s hair.  “But you lived a good, long time, and your people lived free.”

“We did,” Artie said, and began a new round of tears.

“But where will you go when the gods have all gone?”  Lockhart had been thinking.

“We are not sure,” Artie said, and with a glimpse at Anath-Rama, she added, “No one is sure.  But most believe it will be a great adventure.”  Artie grinned, and looked at Boston, who returned the grin.  “And mom,” Artie said, and waited.

“I am here,” Katie said.

“My big sister, Sekhmet, wants to say good-bye, too.  She says she will see you at the time gate in Suez.”

Katie, Lockhart, and Artie hugged again, and then Artie and Anath-Rama began to fade, until they disappeared.  Evan waited until they were gone before he asked.

“Sekhmet?”

“The Egyptian lion goddess, defender of the upper Nile,” Katie admitted.

“I’m not sure how we adopted Sekhmet,” Lockhart said.  “I suppose she sort of adopted us.”

Katie nodded, and said, “But I don’t mind.”

“No, I don’t mind,” Lockhart agreed.  “She is a good daughter.  Both of them.  We had two good daughters.”  Katie nodded in agreement as Millie turned on Evan.

“I want a daughter.”

Avalon 7.1 Spirits Alight, part 3 of 6

In the morning, when everything got packed up and ready to go, Boston shouted at the trees.  “Yusef.  Tama and Aleah.  It’s okay to come back now.  We are ready to get going.  Come on.  We don’t mind.”

They waited and watched as something like a white mist coalesced into three people.  They looked like they had at first.  Aleah held on to her mother’s skirt.  Tama held on to Yusef, and Yusef looked pensive and worried his hat.

“Very different from the dark mist of the wraith,” Sukki whispered to Boston, who nodded.

“You don’t mind?” Yusef asked.

“Naw, come on,” Boston said.

“We don’t mind,” Katie smiled, and Tama smiled for the first time.

“We carried a ghost once before,” Alexis said, and added her smile.

“Carthair.”  Decker spit.  “The careless,” he said, and rode out to the wing.

Yusef looked curious, so Lincoln explained.  “He lost his body down a crevasse in a glacier.  We had to retrieve his body before we could do anything.”  Yusef seemed to understand something.

“You drive the truck,” Lockhart said, pointing to the wagon.  Tama and Aleah got right up in the back.  Yusef got up on the buckboard, having no trouble understanding Lockhart, even if he did not know what a truck was.

The travelers passed through a few more villages, and a couple of towns along the lakeside.  Alexis, Lincoln, Millie and Evan rode in front, talking away, and sometimes included Yusef in their conversation.  Katie and Lockhart followed the wagon.  It would have been their turn to drive the mule.

“Curious that the people today are not showing any of the fear the people did yesterday.  How do you explain that?” Katie asked.

Lockhart shrugged.  “I don’t know, but they seem to be ignoring us, and I prefer it that way.”

Around ten-thirty, Boston came riding back to the group, and the group stopped moving.  “City up ahead,” she said, and Lincoln got out the database.  Lockhart rode to the front.

“Philoteria,” Lincoln decided.  “That is where the Jordan comes out of the lake and heads south.  Unavoidable,” he concluded.

“City,” Boston told Lockhart.  “Full of army men.  Sukki has her eyes on it.”

“Perhaps we should disappear,” Yusef suggested.

“No,” people said, but he waited to hear from Lockhart.

“No.  We have not had any trouble today, or even notice in the places we have been this morning.  I don’t see any reason for that to change.”  He called Decker and Elder Stow to pull in before he went back to Katie.

The travelers got into the city with no problem.  They stopped in the market and got some things for lunch and supper.  Yusef, Tama, and Aleah stayed in the wagon, but their heads turned here and there as they watched the activities of the living.  Lincoln tried to bargain with the sellers, but Lockhart got the better price.  They were not going to argue with a giant, especially when he had a second, black giant looming over his shoulder.

“That went reasonably well,” Lockhart said.

“They should teach bargaining in school,” Alexis said, as she came to the wagon with twice the take for a tenth of the cost.

Surprisingly, the only time the travelers ran into trouble was in leaving the city through the river gate, where the river road headed south.  They found a dozen soldiers there, and they appeared to be checking everyone headed south.

“The Gulf of Suez,” Lincoln answered, giving the general location of the time gate.  Katie, Alexis, and Lockhart had all yelled at him for being so free with the information that they were headed to Jerusalem.  Presently, Judea and the Syrians were at war.  Mention going to Jerusalem from outside the territory of Judea, and he risked them all being taken for spies, or enemy combatants.

Lockhart and Katie came to the front in time to hear the chief in the gate say, “Ah, Ptolemy bound.  We got no use for those Egyptian scum.”

“They trade,” Katie said, quickly.

“We are simple travelers,” Lockhart tried his line.

The chief looked twice at Katie’s blonde head before he got rude.  “And in what merchandise?”

“Horses and weapons from the Athol, in Thessaly, Greece,” Katie responded.  “We were just there, not many days ago.  You may have heard of that place.”

“I heard of it,” one of the soldiers spoke.

“Best horses in Greece,” Lockhart added.

“I can see that,” the chief said.  “I might let you go for one of your horses.”

“And the mule,” a different soldier said.  “He looks like a strong one.”

Several of the soldiers got to the back of the wagon and got ready to rifle through the traveler’s things.  Yusef turned to the man admiring the mule.

“Not a good idea,” Yusef said, and he distorted his face in a way that made the soldier scream

Tama also screamed, a bone chilling sound, when a soldier reached for her.  Aleah changed into the shape and face of a decayed body.  The soldiers screamed in return and ran off.

“Did we mention the ghosts?” Lockhart said.

“Don’t push it,” Katie whispered.  “I think we can go,” she said more loudly, and they started through the gate.  Yusef got the mule moving, and Decker and Elder Stow brought up the rear.  Elder Stow turned on the screen device he worked on while they were stopped.  A screen wall got projected behind them.  The chief, and the few who did not see the transformed faces of the ghosts, tried to fire some arrows.  They bounced off Elder Stow’s wall, and the chief quickly decided that maybe it would be best to let these people go after all.

When Elder Stow and Decker moved out again on the wings, and Boston and Sukki rode out front, Lockhart sent Lincoln and Alexis to the rear.  They would stop for lunch as soon as they got far enough down the Jordan River to be away from the city, and Alexis and Lincoln would have the afternoon shift in any case.

“You should not lie like that,” Yusef said, once they got in the clear.

“About what?”

“About the Athol, and the Greeks.  I heard about that valley, even in my day, and again, when the Greeks came through to ruin the Persians.  I know what you said about the Athol making weapons and raising horses is real, but that valley is a long way from here, far across the sea.  One of the commandments is you shall not bear false witness.”

“Not false witness,” Katie said.

“We were there just two days ago, and maybe fifty years ago,” Lockhart said.  “It is kind of hard to explain.  You see, we are time travelers, people out of time, and we are trying to get home to the far future.”  Lockhart paused, so Katie added a thought.

“I don’t think the people in the Athol would be upset if we made a few sales while we travel.”

“You need to go to Jerusalem, and we don’t mind taking you there,” Lockhart said.  “Our journey is a bit longer—about two thousand years longer.”

Yusef shook his ghostly head.  “We are dead, but sadly, not gone.  But you people are stranger still.  I do not understand.”

“Don’t let it bother you,” Evan said.

“I don’t understand it either,” Millie said.  “And I am in the middle of it.”

************************

MONDAY

The travelers and their ghosts head for Jerusalem and hope they don’t run into any more Seleucids.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

Avalon 7.1 Spirits Alight, part 2 of 6

Lockhart frowned.  He figured the family had probably been stuck there for some time and might know more of what made those creepy sounds.  He stood.

“We have wasted enough time, fascinating as ruins may be.  Pack it up.”

The travelers did not object.  The mule objected briefly to Yusef, but they got Yusef up on the buckboard to drive the beast while his wife Tama and daughter Aleah rode in the back of the wagon.  Until then, they had worked out a schedule for the married couples to take turns driving the wagon.  Lincoln and Alexis had the morning shift.  They tied their horses to the back of the wagon, and Lincoln played at driving a Conestoga across the plains, though he admitted it felt more like driving a chuck wagon for a cattle drive in the wilderness.

With Yusef driving, everyone could ride.  Millie and Evan, who were supposed to have the afternoon turn, volunteered to bring up the rear and follow the wagon.  That left Lockhart, Katie, Lincoln and Alexis to ride in front and get into some kind of conversation.  Boston and Sukki joined them now and then, but they mostly rode further out to scout the trail, while Decker and Elder Stow stayed out on the wings to guard their passage.

In this manner, they came down out of the heights, mostly on a poor dirt road of some sort.  In some places, the road got reduced to two wagon wide ruts, but even that was better than trying to drive through the rock-strewn hillside.  They had to be careful in a couple of places where the road got steep.  But their new wagon had a brake of some sort, and they showed Yusef how to use it to slow his descent.

When they got down from the highlands, they came immediately on the sea of Galilee, which the Greeks called, Lake Gennesaret.  Katie checked her amulet, but it did not help, not showing the details like Boston’s advanced model.  Katie could see the next time gate, where they were headed, but she would need a map to find Jerusalem.  Fortunately, she felt familiar with the area.

“We follow around the lake shore until we come to the Jordan River.  Then we follow the river south to Jericho where we can cut across country to Jerusalem, like we did the last time we came through here.”

Lockhart remembered.

Another half-hour, and they came to a fishing village.  The people there did not receive the travelers well.  Most of the people hid.  A few who were caught outdoors screamed and ran into their houses to peek out the windows.

“Not expected,” Lockhart said.  Lincoln sniffed at his underarm, and Alexis reached over to slap him.

“Gee,” Boston said.  “And we got Roman saddles and everything.”  She and Sukki had moved back to ride at the front of the column.  Decker and Elder Stow moved in to act as rear guard.

“Makes me think my glamour has slipped,” Elder Stow said.

Millie turned her head back. “No.  It must be something else.”

Fortunately, the village was not that big.  They were soon out of it, and on a rough, but better road, which unfortunately, led to several more villages where they got more or less the same reception.  The travelers began to get discouraged.

When they came to a Katie approved defensive place in the wilderness, between the villages, Lockhart called them to stop for the night.  They pulled the wagon off the road and set about caring for the horses and gathering wood for the fire.  Alexis and Lincoln walked back up the road to a farmhouse, where they bought a goat.  When they got back with the beast, and Decker and Boston butchered it, Alexis asked the obvious question.

“Where are Yusef, Tama, and Aleah?”

“We have been wondering that ourselves,” Lockhart answered.

“They seem to have disappeared,” Elder Stow said.  “And don’t ask me to get out my scanner, because I got it out when we went through that first village.  Given the reaction of the people, I wondered if there might be soldiers about causing trouble, and I thought they might have seen us as connected to the soldiers.  But when I checked the area, I did not find anything peculiar.  Then the scanner fell on our group, and I noticed Yusef and his family did not show up as being there.  It is possible the scanner has developed a flaw, but I checked several times, and they don’t register.”

“I know,” Millie interrupted.  “I Spent all afternoon trying to get Tama or Aleah to say something, anything.  They just stared the whole time.”

Boston looked up from her cutting.  “Oh, they’ve gone to sleep until morning.”  She went to wash up and would let Decker do the rest of the butchering, while Alexis and Sukki prepared the meat for the fire, along with what few vegetables they found.

“What do you mean, they’ve gone to sleep?  Lockhart wondered.

“Goat is not off the Jewish diet,” Alexis said.  “I just need to ask if I have to prepare it in a special way.”

“Boston.” Katie said, and put some insistence in her voice.

Boston scrunched up her face before she decided something.  She shouted to the trees.  “Sorry.  I have to tell.  Sorry.  But it will be all right.  You will see.  Everything will be all right.”  She turned to the group and sheepishly said, “They are ghosts.  Yusef asked me not to tell.  He was afraid you would drive them away, and they have to get to Jerusalem, or they will never be able to rest.  And in their condition, they cannot move far unless someone takes them.  It is complicated, but I said it would be all right.  Tama and Aleah don’t talk because they have given everything they have to Yusef so he can talk and drive the wagon.  You don’t mind if they go with us, do you?”  Boston took a breath.

Decker Spat.  “We put up with Carthair.  A few more ghosts should not matter.”

“That’s right,” Lockhart said.  “I forgot about him.”

Alexis worried about Sukki.  “Oh, Boston told me,” Sukki said, having made some peace with the idea.

“That was up in the alps,” Katie explained to Evan and Millie.  “Carthair was an early Celt who died in between the Greco-Roman and the German worlds.  He did not want to go to Hades.  He preferred the idea of going to Valhalla.  We took him into German lands.”

“But then he ended up going into the new Celtic jurisdiction,” Lincoln said.  “And he was not happy about that.”

“I remember,” Katie said.  “It was fascinating to watch.  The Kairos Danna, the mother goddess for the Celts was there, and Odin showed up.  They bargained right in front of us about dividing up the Celtic and Germanic people.”

“The Kairos lived as the Gaelic mother goddess?” Evan said, but quickly added, “I don’t know why that should be surprising.”

Avalon 7.1 Spirits Alight, part 1 of 6

After 168 B.C. Judea

Kairos 86: Judith Maccabee

Recording …

The travelers came through the time gate in a place Lincoln said he recognized.  “Third time is the charm,” he claimed.  “Judith is a Hasmonean.  Her father is Judah Maccabee, the hammer, one of the sons.  Her uncles are Eleazar, Simon, John, and Jonathan.”

“John and Jonathan?” Alexis asked.

“That is what is says,” Lincoln pointed to the database.

“The first book of Maccabees,” Evan said.

“It’s not in the Bible,” Millie added something she knew.

“In the Catholic and Orthodox Bibles,” Alexis said.

“I heard of the Maccabees,” Boston said.

“Yes, I remember,” Alexis said.  “I never read the books, though.”

“Lovely,” Lockhart interrupted.  “But that doesn’t tell us where we are.”

“Everyone knows the books of the Maccabees,” Katie teased.  “Four books, right?”  She looked at Millie.

“I think so.”

“Yes,” Evan said.  “Two or Four books.”  Lockhart looked at Lincoln. but Evan answered.  “We are in Palestine, er, Israel, or actually, Judea, depending.”

“Depending?” Lockhart asked.

“Depending on what time in history we have actually arrived,” Lincoln picked up the answer.

“Last time we came through here there were armies fighting,” Evan added.  “We avoided everyone.”

“Is that all the human race does?” Millie asked.

“Seems so,” Elder Stow said.

“That is what armies do,” Decker added.

“Now be fair,” Alexis said.  “There is peace in most places for most of history.  We just have to assume the Kairos is going to be where all of the action is taking place, that’s all.”

“Not an assignment I would like,” Katie said.

“Which way?”  Decker asked, getting a bit impatient.  He was ready to ride out on the wing and just needed to know the general direction.

“Toward Galilee,” Lincoln pointed.  Both Boston and Katie looked at their amulets and confirmed the direction.

“But I would like to see what that is,” Katie pointed.

“Ruins,” Boston said.  Elf eyes were as good as eagle eyes on level ground.

“I am not picking up many life signs,” Elder Stow said, as he looked at his scanner.

“To the ruins,” Lockhart said.  Decker nodded and rode to the top of a small rise.  He paused, before he disappeared down the other side.  Elder Stow rode more slowly out some distance from the other side of the group, hardly taking his eyes off the scanner.  Boston whooped and rode out front.  Sukki had to catch up.  The rest started out at a slow but steady pace.

The ruins turned out to be a city.  “Hazor,” Lincoln named it.  “The Assyrians burnt it to the ground in 732 B.C.”

“I never imagined ruins this far back in history,” Evan said, honestly enough.  “I normally think of these days as the days people build the cities that we find as ruins two thousand years in the future.”  Katie made no objection to that way of thinking.  “I suppose it makes sense, though.  The human race has been building and making war for thousands of years at this point.”

“Actually, having been through all those years, it makes perfect sense to me,” Lockhart said, and Katie appeared to agree.

The day felt cold and wet.  The wind whipped around the travelers, adding to the chill.  When they got in among the crumbling walls and buildings, they felt grateful for the windbreak.  At the same time, they heard the wind whistle through the streets, sounding like people in torment.  They heard low moans, creaks in the stones, and whispers that occasionally rose up the scale to human-like screams.  It is just the wind, people said.  The winter wind, Boston insisted, and Lincoln pointed to a small pile of snow, shoved by the wind against a pile of stones, where the sun could not get at it.

“Snow?  Doesn’t look like middle east to me,” Lockhart objected.

“They get snow,” Katie insisted. “We are up in the highlands.”

Lockhart shook his head.  “When I think of this part of the world, I think of heat, like a desert, or Lawrence of Arabia.”

Katie laughed, but paused at the next wind driven scream down an alleyway.

When they got to the far side of the ruins, they stopped for an early lunch, and Lockhart asked what had been on his mind.

“The question is, why hasn’t this place been rebuilt?”

“The Greeks and Romans destroyed cities all the time, but later, they let the old people, or sometimes entirely new people go back in and rebuild the cities.”  Evan agreed with the question.

“The Assyrians were not that open minded,” Katie suggested.  “Sometimes, they eliminated competitors and did not want anyone else to come along and start it up again.”

“Besides,” Lincoln said.  “Who would want to live here?  The place sounds haunted.”

“What I was thinking,” Sukki said, and looked around, furtively, to await the next scream in the wind.

“Hey,” Boston got everyone’s attention.  “Maybe there is a secret cave deep under the ruins where a genie lives in a lamp.”  People ignored her.

“Fair enough,” Lockhart responded. “But I would think after five hundred years, there would at least be people living here.”

“There are,” Elder Stow said, and pulled his scanner back out.  “Not many.  Mostly hiding from us, I would guess.”

“Maybe merchants passing through,” Millie suggested.

Evan agreed with his wife.  “Travelers, like us.”

Lockhart offered a thought one might expect from a former policeman.  “Maybe thieves and robbers using this place as a hideout.”

“Thanks,” Lincoln objected to that image, and Sukki looked scared, but Boston picked up on the idea.

“Maybe cutthroats, murderers and assassins planning their next job.”  She chuckled but stopped when she noticed some of the others did not find it so funny.  “Sorry,” she said.  “I seem to be losing touch with the way some humans view things.”

“It’s not that different,” Alexis scolded, and added, “Don’t give in to your impish impulses.  That way leads to the dark side.”

Boston frowned.  “Yes mom.”  She gave it her sarcastic best, before she, Katie, and Decker all jumped to their feet.

“Excuse me.”  A man stepped from behind their windbreak wall.  He had his hat in his hand and worried it.  “You appear to be travelers.  May I ask where you are headed?”

“Jerusalem,” Lincoln said, before anyone could stop him.  Between his database and Boston’s amulet, they figured out that much.  The Kairos had to be in Jerusalem.

“Can we help you?” Lockhart asked in his best policeman voice.

“My wife and I need to get to Jerusalem.  It is our home.  We came up here because of family, but things went bad.  There were armies and killing.  It isn’t safe to travel home, just us, alone.”

“Your wife?” Alexis asked.

The man reached one hand behind the wall, and a young woman, ten or more years younger than the man, and a seven or eight-year-old girl came to join him.  They said nothing, but the wife appeared to cling to the man, as the girl clung to her mother’s skirt and stared.

“You have names?” Katie asked, as she resumed her seat beside Lockhart.

“Yusef,” the man said.  “Tama, my wife, and Aleah, my daughter, is eight.”

Katie introduced the travelers, and Alexis asked, “Are you hungry?”

“Thank you, no,” the man said.  “We have eaten, earlier.  If you don’t mind.  Our people have many restrictions on what we may eat and how it is prepared.”

“Kosher,” Alexis nodded.  “We understand, at least the basic idea.”

The family looked toward the wind caused scream in the distance.  The travelers followed the family’s eyes but saw nothing; except a few noticed the fear in the eyes of the family.

“More ghosts.  Not nice ones,” Boston said, before she quieted.

Avalon 7.0 Brigands, part 6 of 6

The following day, they rode extra hard.  Lockhart’s horse and Decker’s horse nearly gave out, having carried such big men for so long.  Sukki’s horse, Freedom, struggled.  Boston’s Honey and Elder Stow’s horse seemed fine, but Lockhart grew concerned.  Their journey through time was long enough and hard enough as it was.  The horses made it tolerable.  He could not imagine walking the rest of the way back to the twenty-first century, especially since the time gates began to get further and further apart as humans started traveling greater distances from home.

After lunch, they crossed a couple of rivers and moved into the foothills of Mount Othrys, leaving the coast behind them.  They knew they were getting close, and this time they would not stop at dark.  Even so, they had to get down and walk the horses now and then.  During one of those times, Arias told them about the Athol.

“It is an isolated valley nestled in the foothills of Mount Othrys.  The road bypasses the valley, running through a gap in those foothills.  The little Athol River is not much of a river.  In the dry season, you can wade across it in spots.  It runs into a small, but deep bay where there are great docks for merchant shipping.  The people of the Athol have a great reputation making weapons and branding the horses that run in the hills—some of the best horses in Greece.  They have a silver mine, a copper mine, and an iron mine in those hills with hamlets scattered here and there.”

“Weapons?” Lockhart asked.

“They made the bronze weapons used at Troy.  They made the iron weapons Alexander used against the Persians.  The city is barely a town.  It has a wall only part way around; never finished.  My husband Damon teaches the martial arts at the Athol Academy.  Sophia’s husband is the Princess’ older brother, Darien.  He is a Roman citizen, a tribune for the province, charged with keeping an eye on Phillip and his Macedonians.”

“And the Princess is married?” Boston asked.

“Yes, of course.  Her husband, Julius, is the son of a Roman Senator.  It is a long story.”

When they rode again, they did not get far before they saw another horse, struggling among the trees.  Arias sensed something and raised her shield before the arrow struck.  Lockhart pulled his handgun and fired at the tree. Decker fired three shots from his rifle.  Elder Stow did one better.  His handgun was on a low setting, but it still flashed bright in the afternoon and set the tree on fire.  The dead man that fell to the ground looked badly burned.

“Mylo,” Arias identified him.

Boston nodded to confirm Arias’ perception before she complained to Elder Stow.  “A little overkill, don’t you think?”

“Sorry young Boston,” Elder Stow apologized.  “It is at a low setting, but I see I need to lower it some more.”

Althea said, “Wow.”  Meriope and Aurora appeared to have trouble closing their mouths.  Sophia did not look pleased.

“I agree with the Princess,” she said.  “I hate the killing part.”

Barely an hour later, the group topped a rise and saw two large companies of men camped across the road from each other.  They were not fighting but looked ready to go at it at any moment.

Arias pointed when they stopped.  “On the left it looks like two or three hundred actual soldiers, Athol guards and maybe Damon and some fourth-year students from the Academy.  Not long ago, the Romans camped on Euboea, the army of the Aetolian League camped just below Thermopylae, and Phillip and the Macedonian army camped around Thebae.  They circled the little valley, all about a day away, and they stared hard at each other.  The Athol mustered four—less than five thousand men, and some women, for self-defense, and that just about emptied the valley.”

“It doesn’t sound like a very big place,” Lockhart said.

Arias agreed.  “It isn’t.  That is one of the reasons it has survived at peace for all these centuries.  It is isolated, of no strategic importance, and never had a population big enough to threaten anyone.” Arias turned her eyes.  “On the right, the collection of what may be a hundred and fifty or so men, is Xitides and his brigands.  They are the ones who look like three pirate ships emptied their dregs on the beach.”

“Why is he here?” Sophia pushed forward and asked.  “Thermopylae is only a long day away.  He could be half-way to the Peloponnesus by now.”

“Waiting for us,” Arias answered.  “He wants this settled and doesn’t want me chasing him all over Greece.”  She started her horse down the other side of the rise, and the others followed.

It did not take long to find the Princess.  Arias paused to kiss her husband, Damon, and while they clearly loved each other, neither appeared the type to go in for public shows of affection.  Sophia, by contrast, ran into the arms of her husband, Darien.  They adored each other and did not care who saw.  Boston ran into the Princess’ hug but hugged carefully around the baby.  The Princess smiled, before she put one hand on her belly.

“I remember you from the future,” Boston grinned as hard as she could.  “I saved that up all this time so I could see Lockhart shake his confused head, about remembering the future.”

“No,” Lockhart shook his head and disappointed Boston.  “At this point, I have that one figured out.”

“Pooh,” the Princess said.

“Oh, pooh,” Boston said at the same time.

“My husband, Julius,” the Princess said, as she let go of Boston and reached a hand behind her.  Julius came and took it and acknowledged Boston in the right way.

“Little One.”

“I used to be human,” Boston admitted.  “Alexis used to be an elf, so we kind of evened out.”

“Yes.”  The Princess looked around.  “Where are the others.”

“Katie and the others should be along tomorrow at about this time,” Lockhart said.

“We have to end this,” Arias interrupted.

“Elder Stow and Sukki.  Would you stay here?”  Lockhart continued.  “And Boston—”

“No way, boss.”

“—I know better than to ask you to stay with them.”

Arias spoke.  “Meriope and Aurora, stay with them.” The rest of the crew, including the Princess and various husbands, crossed the road.

Xitides had already come out.  He looked an imposing sight and had a dozen big and mean looking men to back him up.  He looked like he might snarl, but he also looked at the men behind him, like he wondered if he had enough.

Arias stepped forward, stopped several yards back from the brigands, and said one word.  “Explain.”

Xitides stepped right up to Arias’ face.  He looked as big as Lockhart and Decker, a bit over six feet tall, and was one man in Greece that could actually look down on Arias.  It didn’t help.  When he got close, he fell to his knees and whined, like a schoolyard bully caught in the act.

“I’m sorry.  We went around.  I respected Amazon land.  Philocrates took his company and did that all on his own.  When I found out, I threw him out right away.  You have to believe me.  I would never do such a thing.  It wasn’t me.  I didn’t do it.  I’m sorry.  You have to believe me.”

“Okay.  I accept your apology.  Where is Philocrates.”

Xitides got slowly to his feet.  He appeared to be thinking… but thought better of it.  He wiped one eye with his thumb which put a dirt streak across his cheek.  He waved, and Philocrates got brought out kicking and screaming through his gag.  He was tied, but it still took four men to carry him.  They threw him at Arias’ feet.

Philocrates got to his knees, barely raised his head, and did not get to plead, when Arias pulled her sword, fast as a gunslinger.  Philocrates head bounced in the dirt.  Then Philocrates’ body fell to join it.

“Amazons don’t suffer rapists to live,” Arias said, and turned her back on the whole mercenary army.  Xitides put his hand to his own throat and stared, and so did any number of his men.  Sophia hid her face.  Lockhart and Boston dropped their jaws a little.  Decker Spit, and Arias spoke to the Princess.  “You want this pirate for something?”

“Not me,” the Princess said.  “I can’t stand the smell of him.  He is stinking up my beautiful hills.”

Damon, Darien, and Julius all stayed with the little Athol army.  The brigands would move off for Thermopylae in the morning.  They got the men to bury Philocrates’ body beside the road.  After so many centuries, it was hardly the first such grave.  It would serve as a reminder, and mostly a warning to any thief, pirate, brigand, mercenary group, or army that might be tempted to see what silver or other goodies the Athol might have to offer.  The others, Amazons and Travelers, followed the Princess and her four guardsmen along the trail-road through the hills to her little city.

Two days later, Katie and the others arrived, and in the morning, the Princess and Julius took the travelers to one of the dozen stables around the field.  The stables got used when the people brought horses down from the hills and in from the surrounding plains for branding, training, and sale.

The stable she took them to had ten young mustangs, one mule, and a new wagon for the road.  “They are four or five, about the age of the horses you started with.  If you treat them well and give them regular rest as you have been doing, I hope they will last the two plus years you have left to travel.  Glen says hi, by the way, but I dare not bring him here to say hi himself.  Sophia mentioned that you started this journey three years later than I have access to his life.  It would not be good to have you tell him what he has to look forward to, not that he would remember.”

“But what about Honey,” Boston looked ready to cry.  She loved her horse, like a pet.

“I hope to send your horses and the cowboy horses back to Casidy, so he can recoup some of the money he spent.  I don’t know.  I needed Athena, Apollo, and Artemis all working together to get these horses here.  I don’t expect the same help to send yours back.  I may have to put them out to stud, which might be like a reward for a job well done.  The Athol already has a reputation for the best horses in Greece.  A few mustangs bred into the mix would cement that reputation forever.”

“And the mule?” Lincoln asked.

“As strong and hearty as they come.  I had a mule once.  We called him Stinky.  We made him bring up the rear.  You can imagine.”

“When was that?”

“About three hundred and fifty years in the future,” the Princess said, without so much as a grin.

Lockhart smiled for her.  “That’s my Kairos.”

The Princess went on.  “The horses are all tied to you, just like at first, though for Millie and Evan, the tie did not take as well.  I think I didn’t know Millie and Evan as well when I did that.  But they won’t wander.  You may notice the Roman saddles.  I cheated and gave you stirrups, and horseshoes, with extras in the wagon, but you can’t go back to western gear until about a thousand years from now; or about a year from now, travel time.  Your stinky mule may need replacing at that point, and maybe your wagon, but we will have to see what I can do without the help of the gods.”  The Princess shrugged and slipped into Julius’ arms for some hugging.  She had one more thing to say.  “Just don’t screw anything up that I can’t fix.  From here on, history is in the balance.”

************************

MONDAY

Next time, the travelers find themselves in Galilee and pick up three very strange passengers.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

 

Avalon 7.0 Brigands, part 5 of 6

Less than a minute after the fighting stopped, the others showed up, with Leodis leading a hundred guardsmen.  Arias looked unhappy at missing it all, but Leodis looked glad that he did not have to fight.  Arias, Leodis, Lockhart, Katie, and Lincoln all came into the warehouse together.  Alexis and Sophia went around to the docks where they had three wounded Amazons to tend.  As the guards picked up their prisoners, Decker confessed.

“Five came riding out from the alley.  I was involved in containing the ones coming out the front door, but I got off one good shot.  The man’s horse followed the others, but I bet I got one of them.”

“So, maybe four escaped,” Lockhart concluded.

“There are still too many roads and gates in this city,” Arias complained.

“Let me,” Leodis said, and he sent guardsmen, two by two, to all the gates with a description of what to ask and what to look for.

“Elder Stow?” Katie asked without spelling it out.  Elder Stow shook his head.  “What about the horses, or their equipment?”

“Maybe,” he said and began to work on his scanner.  Althea inched up close to watch.  Elder Stow did not mind explaining some of what he did, but he would not let her touch the device.

Shortly, Alexis came back in from the docks.  She shook her head, sadly.  “The brigands are all dead,” she announced, and stared hard at Arias.  “Your Amazons laughed when I asked if any of the men had a chance to surrender.”

“It is not a laughing matter,” Arias said, firmly.  “But Amazons do not let rapists live.”

“Well,” Leodis said.  “On that happy note, let us return to the palace.  It will be dark in an hour or so, and as much as you would like to chase them tonight, I am sure, they will have to stop soon and let their horses rest and eat, or else risk losing their horses and end up on foot, which should make them easy to catch.”

“Fair enough,” Lockhart said, with a quick look around for possible objections.  Now that Evan, Millie, and the young girls were safe, no one felt in that much of a hurry.

“So, tell me,” Leodis continued as he walked back to the horses.  “Arias.  Who are these strange friends of yours?”

“They are friends of the Princess,” Arias said.

“Oh, that explains everything,” Leodis joked and chuckled.

“They come from the same land as the general,” Arias added.

Leodis stopped.  “Actually, that does explain a lot.”  He shook his head and began to walk again.

###

In the morning, the travelers divided.  The brigands appeared headed for Thermopylae, the place Arias first thought they might go.  She had a good hope of catching them before they escaped into the Greek mainland, but she knew they would have to ride hard and fast to do it.  The travelers were headed that way.  Lincoln, Boston, and Katie got together with the two amulets and Lincoln’s database and figured the next time gate would be somewhere on the far side of Corinth.

“Not fair,” Katie complained.  “We won’t be that far behind, even at the slower pace set by the mule and wagon.”

“Can’t be helped,” Lockhart said.  “You have the cowboy horses, but they are older and not in the best of shape already.  We have five young mustangs still tied to us, and they are the only horses that have the stamina and strength to keep up.  Arias, Sophia, and Althea, Meriope and Aurora did some horse trading, so they have fresh mounts.  We can’t do that, much as Leodis admires and might like the mustangs.  I think the selection of Decker, Elder Stow, Sukki, Boston, and myself has been made.”

“I wouldn’t count much on the stamina of the horses,” Katie said.  “We have rested them and cared for them as much as we could these last two-and-a-half years, but they are used up.  We already lost three horses, Cortez, Misty Gray, and my own Black Beauty.  Horses are not designed to be constantly ridden through the wilderness like that, even if we walk them as much as we ride them and rest them a week every ten to twenty days or so.  Two-and-a-half years is a long time.  Even if the Kairos and the gods put a hedge around them and gave them super-endurance, we know they won’t last forever.”

Lockhart was not going to argue, and he knew Katie was not arguing, she just protested, in general.  “You have the prototype amulet, so each group has the means to find the time gates.”

“Millie still has her chestnut.”

“Hardly better than a compass showing the direction to the past and future gates,” Lockhart said, and smiled.  The two lovers hugged each other.  “Besides, you have a half-dozen Amazons under Clarissa to help, but be honest, Lincoln, Alexis, Evan and Millie are not exactly military minded.  You need to be there to lead the group, with your military instincts, your advanced rifle, and your elect senses and intuition.  I thought the job of the elect was to defend the home and family.”

Katie sighed, and changed the subject.  “Millie wants to have children.  She wants to have a daughter.”

Lockhart did not jump nearly as much as he would have three years earlier when they began this journey.  He said, “Maybe when we get home, you and I can have one of those.”

Katie looked up at him and smiled.  They got lost in each other for a while.

When the five travelers and five Amazons raced out of the gate at dawn, Katie waved, so Millie waved.  Clarissa shouted, “Good luck.”  And they waited for the dust to settle before starting out.

On the second afternoon, the ten in front found one of the brigand horses, dead, by the side of the road.  It had been covered, but some predator had already uncovered part of it and began feasting.  Whatever it was, it hid when the people arrived.

Arias leapt down, and Boston, Sukki, and Aurora joined her.  Sukki, raised a hunter in the days before the flood, and Aurora, the Amazon hunter, both pointed off to the right where trees disguised the gentle rise of a hillside.  Boston, who hunted with her father and brothers in western Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and once in Canada for bear, stood and stretched out her elf senses in that direction.

“Seven humans,” she said.

“Six,” Aurora countered, and pointed at the horse tracks in the dirt.  She forgot to count the dead horse.

“Hush.”  Arias appeared to sense something, but she said nothing as she got them mounted and led the group into the woods.  After a short way, she got everyone down.  Lockhart, Elder Stow, Meriope, an older Amazon, and Sophia, who was not inclined to blood and killing, stayed with the horses.  Arias, Althea, Aurora, Decker, Boston, and Sukki all moved in among the trees as quietly as they could.

Ahead of them, five men sat around a fire in a clearing.  One spoke.

“I tell you, Philocrates and Mylo rode on to Thebae.  Whatever Amazons are on our tail should follow them and skip right by us.”

“I still don’t like this,” one said.  “When the job in Pherae went bad, we should have headed off the road, to the coast.  I got friends in Demetrias where we could hold up.”

“We probably got people chasing us, too,” another said.

“Safety in numbers,” the first one responded, as an arrow stuck him dead center.

The men jumped up and drew their weapons, but the Amazons were wise enough to keep hidden.  Three more arrows quickly took down three more men.  Decker shot the last one while he tried to escape.  He shrugged when Arias looked at him.

“You don’t suffer rapists to live,” Decker said, and Arias nodded.

They heard the shotgun go off back where they left the horses, and they all ran.  They found two more dead men.

Sophia let out her stress in her words.  “Meriope got one.  Lockhart blasted the other with his shotgun.  Elder Stow got a cut in the arm.”  Sophia knelt beside the Gott-Druk and practiced her healing arts.

“Father?”  Sukki sounded upset.  Elder Stow had adopted the girl from the deep past, so they were family in the deepest Neanderthal sense.  Family was the root and fiber of Gott-Druk society and culture.

“I’m all right, daughter” Elder Stow assured the girl.  “I would not have been caught, but I think I got the brigands on the scanner, or two of them, anyway.  I was not paying attention.  Thank you, my father, for saving my life.”  Lockhart waved it off, but Decker spoke.

“We watch out for each other and take care of each other,” he said.  “Like Amazons, I suppose.”

Arias nodded to that description.

That evening, they had a quiet meal at the inn in Thebae, except for Althea, who went back to drooling over the equipment Elder Stow carried.  She couldn’t believe he called them mere toys.  The scanner alone seemed ages beyond anything she ever heard of, even in the year 2160.

Lockhart explained.  “Elder Stow can fly, invisible, protected by his personal screen, and with his heat-ray handgun burn the whole city.”

“It is not a heat-ray,” Elder Stow huffed.

“My wife says I call every ray-gun a heat-ray,” Lockhart confessed.

“It is not a ray-gun,” Elder Stow said.

“What else do you have?” Sophia got curious.

“He has a sonic device,” Boston said.  “Like a sonic screwdriver.”

Elder Stow pulled it out to show, but he had a question.  “What is a sonic screwdriver?”

“From a television show,” Boston answered

Decker shrugged, but Lockhart had a thought.  “Lincoln might know.  He goes in for all that science fiction mumbo-jumbo.”

“Not your cup of tea?” Arias asked, sounding very much like Susan from 1976.

“No,” Lockhart admitted.  “But Katie might know.”

Avalon 7.0 Brigands, part 4 of 6

Boston and Sukki sat quietly in the alley where they could watch the warehouse side door and keep one eye on the brigand horses tied there.  The sun passed the midpoint in the sky a couple of hours earlier, and the afternoon felt hot, and boring.  Boston looked at her watch and saw it was after three.

“Hurry up,” she whispered.  “It is going to be dark soon. We don’t want them to get away.”  Immediately, she heard the voice of Lockhart come from her wristwatch communicator.  Boston grinned.  It was just the sort of coincidental, perfect timing the little spirits of the earth tend to do without any effort.

“Decker. Any movement?” Lockhart asked.

“Nothing on the docks,” Althea spoke into the communicator she borrowed from Lincoln.

“No movement,” Decker spoke over top.  “Since Alexis mentioned it, Elder Stow decided he wants to go invisible and sneak into the building.  If he can isolate Millie and Evan, he has two more discs tuned to the invisibility spectrum.”

“Sukki,” Elder Stow spoke.  “You still have an invisibility disc.”

Sukki took Boston’s wrist and spoke into the watch.  “Yes.”

Elder Stow meant to tell Sukki to stay out of the warehouse, invisible or not, but Lockhart interrupted.  “Elder Stow.  Go ahead inside but take your screen device.  There should be a couple of young Amazon girls in there that we did not know about before now.  See if you can isolate them all behind your force field.”

“You got a screen device, one small enough to carry around?” Althea spouted her excitement over the radio.

Elder Stow huffed.  “My father.  It is not a force field.  That description is so wrong, I cannot tell you.”

“Just go,” Katie spoke.  “We will be there in five or ten minutes, and Leodis is bringing a hundred guardsmen.  We want our friends safe, and don’t want them used as hostages.  Out.”

“Going,” Elder Stow responded, and added, “Out, as you say.”

“Boston?”  Alexis’ voice followed.  “You are not allowed to go invisible and follow Elder Stow into the building.  Do you hear me?”

“Yes, mom,” Boston said, in her best sarcastic voice.

Alexis turned off her wristwatch device and spoke to the others, looking only slightly embarrassed.  “As long as she listens…”

“Are you going in anyway?” Sukki asked Boston.

“Absolutely,” Boston responded.

Sukki pulled her knife and made sure Elder Stow’s invisibility disc stayed in the pocket in her belt.  After a minute, Sukki turned invisible.  Boston immediately went invisible, the way elves do, especially when they are working around humans.  Sukki could not see Boston, but Boston could still see Sukki, so she took Sukki’s hand, cautioned her to quiet, and took her in the side door.

Boston and Sukki stepped to the back as a man came to poke his head out the door, looked at the horses, and shut the door again with a shrug, like maybe the door blew open.  Boston counted twenty men in the warehouse, all standing lazily by the windows, looking out, occasionally, and waiting for something.  Boston figured they were waiting for the sun to go down.

“Millie,” Sukki whispered and pointed.  She seemed to want to drag Boston in that direction.  Millie and Evan appeared to be unhurt, but sitting quietly on chairs, while two young girls sat on the floor behind them.  She wondered how many young girls the brigands carried off originally from that village.  She would find out later.  She tried hard to wait, patiently.

“Hush,” Boston said.  “Wait for Elder Stow.”

Boston watched and listened to the two that sat at a table.  She caught the names, Mylo and Philocrates.  They looked like the ones in charge, if only because they were not standing beside a door or window.  She thought of all kinds of things she could do to spook them.  The thoughts came to her, instinctively.  Some of her notions, the true imps might describe as trixie-fixies.  She had to force herself to refrain, but she did pass the time thinking what she could do to get the two men to draw swords on each other.

Finally, Elder Stow came in the front door.  Sukki started right out across the warehouse floor.  Elder Stow saw her and frowned.  Sukki and Elder Stow could see each other, even if no one else could see them.  Boston, on the other hand, stayed invisible to everybody, though she might have been seen if there were other spirits around, at least little spirits.  Lesser and greater spirits and, of course, the gods would see her, and she might not see them.  She could not worry about that.  She had to catch up to Sukki.

“Millie. And Evan,” Sukki gave it her best whisper.  She clutched her knife and turned to see if any of the men heard.

“Hold the girls,” Boston said.  “We don’t want to frighten them.”

“Boston?” Evan spoke softly as he took Libra’s hand and Millie hugged Chloe.  A few of the men’s heads turned toward them.  “Is Elder Stow with you?”

“Right here,” Elder Stow said in his normal voice.

As he got close, he got ready to turn on his screen device, but Boston yelled, “Hey.”  She got knocked over from behind.  Elder Stow nearly dropped his screen device in a sudden wind.  The wind coalesced in mid-air.  A wraith appeared in the image of a zombie-like woman with flesh rotting off her body.  The wraith floated six feet off the ground.  She turned her head all the way around to grin wickedly at the travelers and Amazon girls, then finished turning her head the rest of the distance to face the two men at the table and the men against the walls.

“Your enemies have found you,” the wraith spoke in an eerie, chilling voice.  “Now, you will all die.”  The wraith laughed, and a number of people in the room threw their hands to their ears to not have to hear that laugh.

Boston got mad.  She whipped out her wand and lost her concentration on staying invisible.  Fortunately, when she became visible again, she came with her glamour of humanity in place.  Boston aimed her wand at the wraith, and a stream of fire, like a miniature flame-thrower came out of the end.  The wraith shrieked and managed to side-step in mid-air.  Then, because Boston and Elder Stow might hurt her, or because she finished making her dastardly prophecy, she raced to the ceiling.

“Die,” she yelled, and laughed again as she went right through the roof and out into the afternoon sun.

Elder Stow turned on his screen and turned off his invisibility disc so he and Sukki became visible again, looking human enough.  Elder Stow looked like a bearded fifty-year-old, which was plenty old for that day and age.  Sukki looked like a big, broad-shouldered girl, like maybe an Olympic weightlifter, or wrestler, or some such thing.

The screen made a bubble, covering overhead, as well as beneath the floor.  Boston got caught outside the screen, but she knew how to get through the screen, and quickly phased through to get behind the protection.  All at once, the men around the room appeared to wake up from their shock.  They all moved.

The two at the table ran straight for the side door where their horses were tied up.  Three men followed them.  Ten burst out the warehouse double-doors that faced the docks.  They ran into the dozen Amazons who were ready for them, and well hidden.  The rest raised their bows and tried to shoot the intruders, only to see their arrows bounce off Elder Stow’s screen.

A couple of them shouted, and two joined the others on the dock, to be cut down by the Amazons.  The rest tried for the front door where Decker played turkey shoot.

Inside the screen, the Amazon girls pushed past Millie and Evan to get at Sukki and Boston.  “You are a spell caster,” both said to Boston, more or less together.  The awe in their voices could not be hidden.

“I wish I was a spell caster,” Chloe said, while Libra turned to Sukki.

“You look really strong.  I wish I was really strong.”  Libra touched Sukki’s muscled arm and Sukki smiled but did not know what to say.

“She is stronger than you might imagine,” Elder Stow said, and the two young girls bowed their heads slightly to the old man as a sign of respect.  “And Boston here was the first spell caster in the Amazon nation, back when Zoe was queen of the people.  They called her Little Fire.”  Elder Stow looked at Boston.  “I remember, even if I spent most of that time passed out in a drunken stupor from that Amazon beer.”

Chloe’s eyes got big, but Libra did not buy it.  “Can’t be.  That was a gamillion years ago.”  She looked at Millie for adult confirmation.  Millie smiled with her response and responded gently.

“I wasn’t there at the time, but I believe it.”  Libra still looked uncertain, but Millie turned to Evan and said something not entirely unexpected.  “I want to have a daughter.”

Evan opened his eyes, wide.  While he did not say no, he looked glad when Elder Stow interrupted.

“We have prisoners.”

Three men threw down their weapons, put their hands on their heads, and knelt, one with his eyes closed like he started praying.  Decker came in and shouted.  “Lie down on your faces.  Hands over your head.”  The men did not argue.

Elder Stow turned off the screen device as Althea and three Amazons came rushing in the warehouse double-doors.  Boston walked up to the corner of the building where her flame-thrower started the wall on fire.  She had to think, and that felt hard to do with Chloe clinging to her side and walking in her steps.  Finally, she pulled out her wand and pointed at the building fire.  The flames appeared to suck back into the wand, though the wooden wall still smoldered, and the fire looked like it might start up again any minute.

“Amazing,” Chloe said.  “I wish I could do that.”

Boston smiled for the girl and patted her head.  “You are an Amazon.  You can do whatever you want.”

Avalon 7.0 Brigands, part 3 of 6

“They are off the scanner,” Elder Stow admitted in the morning.  He gave the scanner a little shake, but it did not help.

“They must have moved in the night,” Lockhart said, what many thought.

“I should have anticipated this,” Arias scolded herself.

“With luck, they went into Larissa at first light,” Althea suggested, trying to sound positive.

“Not lucky,” Arias countered.  “Larissa is a real city, with a number of gates and a number of roads that lead off in every direction.”

“I wish the Princess was here,” Sophia said.

“Why is that?” Alexis asked.

“Hunting and tracking is what Princesses do best,” Sophia responded with a big grin.

“Gifted by Artemis,” Arias explained.

“Artemis would help,” Katie said.

“Can’t,” Arias said.  “The gods can’t interfere in that way, you know.”

The travelers and Amazons crossed the river bridge at Metropolis where they picked up some food for the journey.  Only Boston looked for the Daily Planet building.  When they actually stopped for lunch on the path they called a road, Elder Stow got excited.

“I got them.  They are in the city ahead of us.”

“Great.  Wonderful,” people said.

“They appear to be alive, as far as I can tell.”

“Thank God,” Alexis said.

“Have they stopped moving?” Lockhart wondered.

‘Let me bring this up,” Elder Stow said, and the scanner projected a three-dimensional map of light.  He zoomed into the city, but when he got to the street level, the map became fuzzy to look at.  Only two red dots stood out against the cityscape.  Arias and Sophia looked as carefully as they could and agreed.

“They are in the warehouse section by the river,” Arias said.  “We need to enter the city and bypass them to talk to Leodis first.”

“Rachel will help,” Sophia said.

“Leodis?” Alexis asked, and Lincoln got out the database to see what he could find out.

Arias nodded.  “Larissa is a democracy with a king.  The legislature is the city assembly, but the executive is the king.  That would be Leodis’ ancient father, but Leodis and his wife, Rachel, run most of the operations these days.”

Decker shared his thought.  “If they are in a river warehouse, they might be looking for riverboats to lose us on the water.”

Lockhart agreed.  “If we bypass them to go through channels, they might escape.”

“We can set some guards while the rest of us go to the palace,” Arias said, and they spent the rest of their lunchtime planning to do that.  The only interruption came when Arias asked Althea a question.  Althea did not answer the question.

“I’m drooling over that scanner.  We don’t have anything nearly so capable or sophisticated, even in 2160.”

“This toy?”  Elder Stow shook his head.  “This is only a little thing such as a ship’s officer might carry on his person to play with when he is bored.”

“Where on Earth did you get that?” Althea asked.

“Not on Earth.  It came from the Gott-Druk new home world.  My planet.”

“You are Gott-Druk?” Althea’s eyes widened.  “I—Erica me—has only heard rumors.  You are like legends.”

“Gott-Druk?” Sophia asked.

“Neanderthals,” Lockhart said and left it at that, but Katie thought she better explain.

“Elder Stow and Sukki’s people were taken into space at the time of the flood.  They were given a new home world where they could survive and prosper.”

“The flood?” Sophia asked, but quickly figured it out.  “Oh.  Noah.  The flood.”

“Yes,” Elder Stow huffed.  “And it has only taken us ten thousand years to figure out the new home world is a good place, and we were not cursed by being taken away from Earth.”

“And Sukki?” Sophia asked.  “They don’t look Neanderthal.”

“Thanks,” Sukki said.  “I was practicing being human.”

“And you do it well,” Alexis said.  “They wear a glamour.”

“And Boston?” Arias asked.

Everyone paused.  Boston also wore a glamour to make her appear human, but clearly, Arias noticed something.  Boston did not mind.

“I’m an elf.”  Boston lifted her glamour briefly to show her pointed ears and all, but put it back on after a few seconds.

“Little one,” Althea said in a reverential tone, and lowered her eyes.  “The little ones have always been a sign of good fortune for the Amazon nation.”

Boston grinned.

“Fair enough,” Lockhart said.  “But now we need to figure out how to divide our forces and make sure the brigands don’t escape down the river.”

###

Inside the warehouse, Evan and Millie sat beside each other and nibbled on the bread Philocrates procured for their sustenance.  Chloe and Libra, ten and twelve-year-old girls, sat behind them for protection.  They did not talk much, but mostly they encouraged each other to hold on.  Have faith.  The others would find them.  Chloe and Libra insisted Queen Arias would save them.  Evan and Millie felt sure the travelers would find them, and Elder Stow might already have them on his scanner.

Mylo stared at Millie from across the room, but Philocrates slapped him in the arm.  “Hands off,” Philocrates said.  “You know used goods don’t fetch nearly so much in market.”

“If they catch us, we may never get to market,” Mylo countered.  “And I will have left a prime female untouched.”

“Chief,” one of the men spoke.  “Why are we dragging around the man?”

“He will fetch something at market,” Philocrates hedged.  “Besides, if they catch us, as Mylo suggests, we may need him for bargaining.”

“I don’t like hurting a servant of the gods,” a second man spoke, and several men nodded in agreement.  When Philocrates looked at him, the man explained.  “Where else would they get those Seleucid weapons? I heard after Athens, they all got rounded up and destroyed.”

“Gumbs,” one of the men tried to remember the name of the weapons.

“A quick strike to steal the temple gold and race out of town did not work too well,” Mylo teased a little, and Philocrates slapped his arm again.

“We had no idea those people would be there, or the Amazons.”

“Maybe that village was not such a good idea,” one man dared to say it.

“We had no idea it was an Amazon village,” Philocrates raised his voice.

“But now we got no money.”

“We are going to be caught,” one of the men said.

“Now, just hold on,” Philocrates raised his hands to calm the men.  “No one knows we are here.  And since Phillip V and the Romans made peace, the whole city has relaxed.  The prince of the city isn’t out looking for spies or enemies.  Larissa is a big place, with plenty of gates and roads.  We just need to keep quiet, and by the time they get done checking all the ways out of the city, it will be dusk, and we can steal a riverboat and be gone.  They don’t know we are here.  Just don’t be loud and stupid today, and we will get away in the dark.”

“Then what?” Mylo asked.

“Then…”  Philocrates had to think a minute.  “We take the road off the river and make our way to Herakleion, where we can sell our wares and get some new horses.  Then we just follow the coast road around to Chalkidiki.  I have some family there and we should be safe enough.”

The men grumbled, but no one objected to the plan.  As the men returned to their lookout duty, Philocrates slapped Mylo’s arm again.  “Hands off,” he said.

At that same time, Althea, Meriope, and some thirteen Amazons climbed on to boats and scrunched down behind ropes, barrels and boxes of merchandise on the dock where they could cut off the brigands from the riverboats.  Decker watched the front door, while Elder Stow kept one eye on his scanner. Boston and Sukki found a side door, where all the brigand horses had been tied up, out in the sun.

“We found the horses,” Boston spoke into her wristwatch communicator.

“Front door covered,” Decker said.  “Amazons have the river.”

“Good,” Lockhart responded through his wristwatch.  “Hopefully, we won’t be long.”

“Boston,” Alexis spoke into her own wristwatch.  “You are not allowed to go invisible and try to sneak in to see Evan and Millie.  You need to wait until we get there, or until we get the go ahead.”

“Oh, puts,” Boston said, but into her wristwatch she said. “Roger.  Out.”

They sat in silence for a minute before Sukki asked, “Are you going to do it anyway?”

“I’m thinking about it,” Boston answered.

At the palace, Lockhart grabbed his shotgun and Katie grabbed her rifle.  They did not expect trouble, but they did not want the palace guards playing with the equipment.  Lincoln carried the database, and Alexis carried her medical bag, and her own wand, if she needed it.  Arias and Sophia got down, and with an honor guard of six Amazons, they all marched into the palace.

A woman ran to Sophia and gave her a hug.  “Leodis was just asking about you.”  The woman appeared obviously pregnant.  Alexis and Katie wondered about Sophia, and Katie especially wondered about Arias, because Arias did not appear to be in the kind of perfect shape Katie expected from an elect.  Sophia could not keep her mouth closed.  She explained.

“Rachel is in her sixth month.  I’m just starting my second.  Arias is in her third.”

“The Princess is in her seventh month,” Arias said.  “She is ahead of us all.”

“No,” Sophia said.  “Rachel is ahead.  She has a three-year-old son.”

“Jacob.”  A man down the hall yelled for the three-year-old boy that escaped his hand and went running to his mother.  Rachel paused, and moaned while she picked up the boy who wanted to hide his face in his mother’s shoulder in front of all these strangers.

The man, Leodis, Prince of Larissa arrived, and Arias immediately began to explain their situation.

************************

MONDAY

Millie and Evan appear to be safe, but the brigands have them prisoners in a warehouse, so nothing is for certain.

*